Student entrepreneurs win big at Blazer Innovation Challenge

Jared Sluss hopes to use prize money to establish a nonprofit organization that helps those who are homeless find a home.

jared sluss streamJared SlussStudents at the University of Alabama at Birmingham were awarded a total of $8,500 to pursue and promote their ideas in the third annual Blazer Innovation Challenge. Jared Sluss, a senior majoring in public health, won first place for his proposal to create a nonprofit organization that matches homeless individuals with vacant rental properties.

His organization, called Link and Loan, connects those who are homeless with landlords who have empty rentals and lends the money needed for a security deposit to people with stable government checks from Social Security, disability and veterans’ pensions.

“We de-risk the whole process by pre-vetting tenants and implementing automatic drafts from these stable government checks,” said Sluss, a student in the UAB Global and Community Leadership Honors Program. “For landlords, we solve their problem of finding tenants who will pay rent, spending scores of hours looking for these tenants and losing money while their house is vacant.”

Sluss plans to use his $5,000 prize to apply for nonprofit status and to get several homeless individuals placed in new homes.

Sunny Nguyen, a senior majoring in marketing, took home the second-place prize of $2,500 for his business, Studio King Media, which provides proposed social media-focused video services to businesses.

The third-place, $1,000 prize went to Andy Curry, a biomedical engineering doctoral candidate who proposed a business model for automotive repairs. Curry’s business, UFix Garage, would allow people who live in apartments, homes or condominiums without access to a closed garage to rent bays in a climate-controlled space so they can service their own vehicles.

andy curry bodyAndy CurryIn addition to prize money, winners will continue to benefit from valuable mentoring, coaching and other resources from the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Commercialization Accelerator to help incubate and develop their ideas throughout the 2018-19 academic year.

The two other teams of finalists who presented their ideas at the competition were Alyncia Robinson, Bre Minniefield and Randyl Cochran, who are all cancer biology doctoral candidates who plan to launch an online science magazine; and Brandon DeBalsi and Tarek Midani, psychology and biomedical engineering graduate students, respectively, who presented an idea to manufacture cost-effective, modular guitars through 3D printing.

Students worked individually or as part of a team to submit their idea with a one-minute video that explains the idea, the problem it solves and why it is relevant. The students presented their ideas live before a panel of judges in a “Shark Tank”-style competition. The Blazer Innovation Challenge is presented by the Collat School of Business and IBERIABANK. The competition winners will present their progress to school and business leaders in spring 2019.

“Our judges had a very difficult job,” said Eric P. Jack, Ph.D., dean of the Collat School of Business. “All the presenters were incredible, with such varied and interesting concepts. If you’re a student who has an idea to start a business, the Collat School of Business wants to help you do that. It truly is learning in the 21st century.”

The distinguished judges for the competition included Collat School of Business alumni Alan Dean, co-founder and senior managing partner of Targeted Technology Funds; Lisa Kianoff, founder and president of Kianoff & Associates; Frank Davis, president and CEO of The Horizon Group of Companies; Taylor Peake, founder of MotionMobs; and Alex Morton, Birmingham market president for IBERIABANK.